Interview with Ellie Alexander

Author Photo

Vanessa Westermann

· 5 min read

Ellie Alexander is a voracious storyteller and a lover of words and all things bookish. She believes that stories have the ability to transport and transform us. With over thirty published novels and counting, her goal is to tell stories that provide points of connection, escape, and understanding.

She loves inhabiting someone else’s skin through the pages of a book and is passionate about helping writers find their unique storytelling lens. As a writing teacher and coach, she guides writers in crafting the story they’ve always wanted to tell while navigating the path to publication that’s right for them.

Could you tell us briefly what your latest book, A Smoking Bun, is about?

Ellie Alexander: This book is set on the snowy slopes of Mount Ashland in Southern Oregon for the annual downhill dummy competition, where participants create outlandish-themed dummies and send them sailing down the ski slope to see who can catch the biggest air. Jules Capshaw and her team at her artisan bakeshop, Torte, have crafted the ultimate pastry on skis to launch off the ski jump. They’ve also been baking a bevy of winter delights—spicy chickpea buns, molasses cookies, and dark chocolate mochas for the festive event. Jules is looking forward to curling up in front of the huge crackling fire in the ski lodge after the competition, but when a dummy accidentally takes out a bystander, she quickly realizes that there are more nefarious things happening on the high alpine slope and she’s in the mix with a killer.

If you could have lunch with one of your characters, which one would it be and why? And where would you choose to meet for lunch?

EA: Lance! Lance is the artistic director for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and while I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, Lance is my favorite character to write. He’s witty, clever, creative, and is always eager to insert himself into any kind of drama—be that on the stage, Jules’ love life, or a murder investigation. His public-facing persona hides his tender heart, and Jules has been lucky enough to crack open his armor and get to know the real Lance. I would meet Lance for lunch at Puck’s Pub, the Shakespearean bar a few doors down from Torte. We’d share a plate of meat pies and break down all of the latest gossip.

While writing your book, what was the most surprising thing you discovered or learned?

EA: I’ve been fortunate to shadow several pastry chefs and even spend a day at a culinary institute while working on this series. It’s important to me to get the baking right. I want readers to feel like Torte is an authentic bakeshop. All of the professional bakers who I’ve spent time with have been so generous with their time and expertise. I’ve been incredibly impressed by the inordinate amount of work that goes into running a bakeshop—from the long hours to the physicality of the job, and of course, the delicious creativity that goes into crafting magnificent cakes and showstopping desserts.

What cookbooks have most influenced you as a culinary cozy mystery writer?

EA: Full disclosure: I have a cookbook addiction, and it’s only made worse by the fact that I can spend an entire afternoon on the couch, leisurely flipping through the pages of a cookbook under the guise of “research.” I appreciate cookbooks with photos, especially if they tell a story through the food. Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks are great at storytelling and setting a scene. The Great British Baking cookbook, the original Betty Crocker, Ina Garten’s cookbooks, and the Vintage Baker are some of the cookbooks that I keep coming back to because they have such a connection to food and family which is what I try to capture in the Bakeshop Mysteries. Food is Jules’ love language, and I want that to come through on the page. She’s not simply baking as an occupation; she pours every ounce of her soul into a sweet bread dough or a savory pastry.

In your YouTube video “Writing Advice For Beginners”, you make a connection between writing and baking. “So many of the amazing pastry chefs and artists, who I have met over the years of writing the bakeshop mysteries, have early cookie or cake designs that were lopsided and squiggly and out of the lines, but years and years of practice have led them to mastery.” What can writers learn from this?

EA: I think one of the things that holds new writers back is the idea that a first draft is supposed to be perfect. It’s easy to fall into the trap of self-editing or giving up partway through a manuscript because there’s so much to fix, but first drafts aren’t supposed to be perfect or pretty. They’re supposed to be messy. It’s the act of getting the story out of your head, and it’s also helping build writing muscle memory. The more we write and practice piecing together a story, the stronger that muscle becomes. The same is true in the kitchen—our flops teach us what we need to tweak the next time around. I always encourage new writers to embrace the mess and start writing, knowing that you can fix and alter your writing “recipe” as you go.

What objects in your writing space help to spark your creativity and why?

EA: My Torte candle that my husband made me for me. It captures the aromas of Torte—cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla. I light it whenever I’m working on a new book so that I can imagine freshly baked Bundt cakes and cinnamon rolls resting on the counter. I also have little trinkets of inspiration like my Torte coffee mug, glossy photos of decadent cakes, Shakespeare quotes, and a map of Jules’ Ashland to set the tone.

What was the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

EA: Read. Read. And read some more. It sounds trite, but there’s no substitute for reading widely. Reading shapes our understanding of the world and helps us develop our own unique writing voice. I read pretty much anything and everything I can get my hands on, and I encourage my writing students to do the same. I think it’s important to read not only in the genre you want to write but also in other genres—sci-fi, poetry, historical fiction, the list could go on and on.

Visit Ellie Alexander on social media!

Author Photo

About Vanessa Westermann

Vanessa is a Canadian crime writer. She is the author of Cover Art and other books. At the heart of all of her stories are strong female protagonists.

Read More About Vanessa Westermann